Concert review: Pre-ice storm triple threat with California Wives, Art Majors and Santah at the Firebird, Sunday, January 30

California Wives by Laura Gray

Laura Gray /

The calm before the storm made for an easy ride to the Firebird on Sunday night, off Olive in downtown St. Louis. The opening band, Santah, five musicians who met in Champaign, Ill., delayed its start time, hoping for more bodies to populate the venue. Eventually, the audience increased from 10 to around 50, as Santah delivered gorgeous, roaming bursts of drums, guitar, electric keys and excellent lead vocals (provided by brother Stan McConnell), tempered by equally excellent vocal backup (by sister Vivian McConnell). When I spoke with Vivian after the set, she said that one of her band’s biggest influences is Wilco. The short set included “White Noise Bed,” “No Other Women” and “Neighbors and Cousins (Are We Lovers).”

Next up, was the band Art Majors. The group hails from “just down the street,” said lead vocalist Michael Roche, who suffered from quite the head cold/flu. Despite the fact that he was sick, when the four musicians hit their stride, there was no stopping their blend of ’80s British goth influences like Bauhaus and the Sisters of Mercy. Drums beat like hooves as doom and gloom vocals slowed the pace and then hit a crescendo with soulful moments: the quartet strummed, pounded and located the zone. The band took me to the gallop of a Pegasus over a metropolis circa 1985 (but I’m kind of weird). Whether you’re into the Pegasus visual or not, Art Majors built their sound into a passionate, sonic peak that lifted off into soaring guitar beauty. The sound contracted and expanded, and then returned to a focused momentum. Stunning.

The headliner of the evening was California Wives (would love to know the origin of the name). Hearing songs like “Purple” and “Guilt” from the 2010 EP Affair, what becomes clear is this quartet’s skilled musicianship on keys, guitars, bass and drums. Its pop, post-punk, shoe-gazing sound blasts forth as from a tightly wound machine. I did find the vocals lacking; Jayson Kramer sounded somewhat fey and Dan Zima’s vocals, granted he too had the beginnings of a cold, did not complement the otherwise excellent music. That said, California Wives seem to be a band to watch. They plan to release a new single this winter and play SXSW in March.